March 4, 2009 9:46 AM   Subscribe

Do I really need a soldering station?

Preface: I love tools, and I'm always looking for an excuse to buy one. My current project requires soldering. I can solder, I have an iron. This is PCB assembly, and seems pretty straightforward. Is a soldering station a 'nice to have, will make it go faster, better, be easier, more rewarding and fun' or is it more like 'indispensable.' Stations seem to run from like $40 - many hundreds. I've thought about getting a cheap one from Harbor Freight and have looked on Craigslist.
posted by fixedgear to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Does your current soldering iron have the ability to adjust the temperature? If no, then you really should get a soldering station with a temperature control, especially if you are doing PCB work.
posted by davey_darling at 9:59 AM on March 4, 2009

Weller soldering station. Dual output, temp controlled. One iron with a chisel tip, set at 800 deg, to help remove solder from components and do any really high-gauge stuff (or soldering onto something with a big heatsink). One iron with a fine tip, set around 700, give or take, for the majority of your components. Profuse amounts of flux. Plenty of isopropyl to wash the flux off after.

Makes soldering damn near enjoyable. But on the "worth the money" side, I've never had a cold solder joint since learning to do this right with the right tools.
posted by olinerd at 10:37 AM on March 4, 2009

Some sort of temperature or power control is really helpful for soldering different sized stuff - large connections need more heat, but electronic parts can be easily damaged by too much heat.

The Weller/Cooper WLC-100 is nice and around $80. The knob simply adjusts power output - for more money you get true temperature control, which people rave about but I haven't found necessary. You can get different sized tips for different jobs like SMD or the beefy stuff.

I highly recommend eutectic solder of 63% tin and 37% lead (instead of 60/40) - it goes directly from liquid to solid and makes it easier to form good joints.
posted by exogenous at 10:40 AM on March 4, 2009

it goes directly from liquid to solid

As opposed to?
posted by Krrrlson at 10:51 AM on March 4, 2009

As opposed to?

As opposed to half liquid, half solid like a Slurpee.
posted by JackFlash at 11:01 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

nthing a good soldering iron, the ability to control temperature is really the key to sucessful soldering.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:35 AM on March 4, 2009

You want a good temp-controlled soldering iron. I use a single-iron Hakko station at work, and one of SparkFun's cheapie Aoyue 906 stations at home -- the Hakko is calibrated with temperatures in C and F; the Aoyue is more of a "take a guess" approach. Both are infinitely superior to my $20 ratshack firestarter in terms of control. If I were to do it again, I'd pass on the Aoyue's hot-air gun and get a Weller WES51 ($90 or so), which is roughly equivalent to the Hakko.
posted by Alterscape at 11:47 AM on March 4, 2009

I see the Hakko 936 is available for $80.20. At that price I would definitely go with this (or another temperature-controlled and static-protected iron) over the inferior WLC-100 that I mentioned above.
posted by exogenous at 11:58 AM on March 4, 2009

Assembly station aids worth having.... (on the cheap)...

Decent iron. The little weller is good enough. Temp control not necessary, but variable temperature is very good to have. That's what the weller has.

Good lighting and seating... and a very light breeze if you are the sensitive type.

ESD mat.

A magnifier lamp is really, really, really, really useful.

Good wire strippers.... very long needlenose pliers.. short needlenose, exceptionally sharp wire cutters for lead trimming.

Solder on a roll... eutectic is good, but not absolutely essential as long as you have a hot iron.

Lead forming guage for axial through-hole parts.

A good layout to keep the workpiece stationary, and solder in one hand, soldering iron in the other.

Solder wick for removal and adjustment of joints, as needed.,, are all places you might want to visit.
posted by FauxScot at 12:33 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I asked the same question of friends, everyone said about the same thing. Get a Weller.

I got a Weller. It is good.
posted by mattybonez at 2:52 PM on March 4, 2009

I got a Tenma with digital readout from MCM several years back and have never regretted it. The stations just plain work better. It was around $125 and has a switch to alternate the redaout between "read" and "setpoint" which is nice. If you do buy a station budget a couple of extra tips up front. You should be able to come up with a nice kit for under $200 including solder spool, desolder wick, vaccuum sucker, maybe some kind of vise. Tip cleaner is a nice thing to have too.
posted by werkzeuger at 4:12 PM on March 4, 2009

One of those $80 stations linked up thread is pretty close to a must have. You can get something for about half that price on eBay, but replacement tips can be expensive, and there is shipping..

A dual iron station with different tips and temps? That is nice to have, but totally unnecessary.

I like FauxScot's list, but you should add solder sucker to it. ESD mats are expensive, and you might not really need one that badly. On the other hand they are good for protecting table tops and keeping your work from sliding around..
posted by Chuckles at 9:47 PM on March 4, 2009

Definitely not "indispensable", I've done lots of PCB assembly with nothing but a $15 Radio Shack pencil (get the low-wattage one).

But it's very nice to have. I have the WLC-100 mentioned above and it makes things much easier.

Something missing from FauxScot's list: ventilation. If you can't work right next to an open window, get a fan to blow air away from you at the very least. I use an air filter with activated carbon 2 feet away from the soldering station - it sucks up all of the fumes and I hardly even smell them.
posted by mmoncur at 10:32 PM on March 4, 2009

Update: I got the Weller Cooper linked upthread. Not $80, but $40 at Amazon. Thanks everybody.
posted by fixedgear at 6:04 AM on March 19, 2009

Good score! My WLC-100 has performed well. Just recently I was working on something where I could use a bit quicker temperature recovery (as would be had from a more expensive iron) in doing a bunch of connections in quick succession, but other than that I've had no complaints. I don't think it's grounded for static so that's something to be mindful of.
posted by exogenous at 1:10 PM on March 19, 2009

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